Critics’ Picks

William Powhida, Didactics (Thieland), 2017, digital print on aluminum, 20 x 20". From the series “Didactics,” 2017.

New York


54 Franklin Street
June 17–July 29

Ceci n’est pas une pipe. Celebrating an image’s fictitious nature may have been cool nearly a century ago, but is it ethically imperative in 2017, the heyday of spin and “alternative facts.” In this exhibition—a summer group show done right—work by seven individual artists and four artist duos, centered on Kellyanne Conway’s noxious phraseology, demonstrates the continuing social and political worth of artistic sleight of hand.

Matt Johnson’s Untitled (Amazon Box), 2016, is an exacting replica of a crumpled delivery carton, made from carved and painted wood. The sculpture enshrines the debris from online purchases and attempts to transform it into something solid, lasting. In New York Times, 2008, a mock edition of the titular journal of record, dated July 4, 2009, and produced and distributed by the Yes Men, similarly employs deception as a means of promoting a sustainable and just world. In a riff on the paper’s slogan, the issue is dedicated to “all the news we hope to print” and features the optimistic headlines “IRAQ WAR OVER” and “Maximum Wage Law Succeeds.” William Powhida takes the opposite approach with his digital print series “Didactics,” 2017, made up of spoof magazine tear-outs and Web pages whose dystopian contents––such as an ad for Art Basel 2025 in Peter Thiel’s own country, “Thieland”––caution against the rapid overexpansion and corporatization of the art world. These pieces indeed constitute fake news, but their intent is to sow seeds of introspection, not misinformation. There’s a reason we grant creative license to artists, not campaign managers.